Page:Modern Parliamentary Eloquence.djvu/19

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
11
Modern Parliamentary Eloquence

that which is based on the continuous study and knowledge of the Greek and Roman classics. How many men are there in the House of Commons who have ever read an oration of Demosthenes, or could translate a speech of Cicero? Thus one class of model has altogether vanished. And if it be said that there is no need to go back to the ancients, and that it is open to anyone to study the oratorical masterpieces of our own country, may it not again be asked, " Where and by whom are they now taught? Is there a single candidate for Parliament who has ever, except of his own initiative, read a speech of Pitt or analysed the methods of Grattan or Canning?" Thus the link of a common education in accepted models has vanished, and the power of speech that a man takes to the House when he enters it is that which has been developed in the college debating society, or on the platform, but not in the study of the past. He need not for that reason be an ineffective speaker—very often quite the reverse; but in so far as knowledge and education can make a man an orator, he is without that resource.

Decline of classical quotations.We see this decline of oratorical furniture in the rapid diminution of quotation and literary allusion in the speeches of the day. More than a century ago Fox is said to have advised as to quotations "No Greek—as much Latin as you like, and never French under any circumstances; no English poet unless he has completed his century." In my own time I can only recall two Greek quotations in the House of Commons: one was from a scholar of Balliol, the present Prime Minister, the other from another Balliol man, the late Lord Percy, who once repeated a line from Euripides.[1] Mr. Gladstone not infrequently quoted

  1. Disraeli, in an address to the students of Glasgow University in 1872, quoted a passage from Sophocles and then added: "In the perplexities of life I have sometimes found these lines a solace and a satisfaction; and I now deliver them to you to guide your consciences and to guard your lives." The students cheered sympathetically, but I have been told by one who knew the facts that Mr. Disraeli only acquired the quotation from an academic friend a little while before the meeting, and that a somewhat limited knowledge of Greek probably left him quite in the dark as to its meaning. The story